I love the buddy system. I’m a big fan of finding likeminded individuals to work with. I’m a believer that two brains are better than one. Despite being an unapologetic loner and proud solo artist, I’ve still been lucky enough to be involved in a lot of partnerships over the past few years. Now that I’m in a rather sweet spot of having a bunch of projects finally come to fruition, I’ve been able to reflect on what made the most successful ones great and what I learned from the more difficult partnerships, because I had my fair share of both.
So here are three characteristics I now seek in a partner.
Note: I’m talking about creative partners. Not romantic partners. I don’t know what to accurately look for in a romantic partner yet. I’m currently writing this home alone while knee-deep in a marathon of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” on Netflix while stuffing my face with White Cheddar Smart Puffs. And this is what I consider a perfect night. So, unless that also sounds like heaven to you too, please don’t take anything I say as dating advice.
1) Your partnerships should be organic
Listen, I’m all about the “networking” events wherein you can find people who meet certain needs that you may work with in the future. I’ve been a beneficiary of meeting people at events where people are there specifically to “network.” I’ve used social media sites like Creative District and Stage 32 to find people who have definitely helped me out in some way.
But in terms of someone you are going to spend a ton of time working with, it’s best when organic, when you have a partner with whom you naturally flow. You have a natural overlap in your life and interests so you can have something to fall back on, and you’re easy friends who enjoy each other’s company because you’re going to be spending a lot of time and a lot of long hours working together. So when you have an organic trust and friendship built, it helps get you through the tougher times in whatever project you’re working on.
Plus, if I’m going to give up any of my precious time, I want to do it with someone I genuinely enjoy being around.
2) You partners should be complementary
Notice how I spelled complementary. I don’t mean they should give you compliments all the time. If they do, bonus for you. Also please give me the name of this person because I love compliments.
What I mean is that they should naturally bring a set of skills to the table that help fill out what you’re lacking. Because even if you get compliments daily (again, share the wealth and give me those digits!), you’re not perfect. In any given worthwhile creative project, you’ll need to create a team of experts to help you in many capacities.
I’ve got a director friend I partner with a lot. He and I get along splendidly as people, so I don’t mind spending 16 hour days filming in difficult conditions in uncomfortable outfits with him. I like his company. We get each other. But, just as importantly, he is a much better director that I am. He’s able to take the words and characters I create and bring them to life onscreen in delightful ways. I create a skeleton, but he turns it into a living creature. He picks up where I leave off. And we both get to contribute to the same vision.
It’s not that you can’t do everything. Sure, you can. But it’ll be limited. And if you really want to enjoy the magic of creative partnerships, you start to get pleasure out of seeing the skills and talent other people bring to the table.
3) You and your partner should speak the same language
This characteristic is so important. It’s also sometimes the hardest to pick up on. Which is why I’ll reiterate characteristic #1- make sure you have a foundation of friendship so that this partnership is organic in some way. This will help you determine your future partner’s communication style.
I’ve entered into many partnerships with people without realizing that we communicate very differently. I tend to be busy and blunt. This doesn’t always bode well with people who need a lot of time and reassurance. I assume everyone on the team is doing as much work as I am in whatever task they have been assigned. This doesn’t always bode well for people who wait to be told what to do and, even then, only do the minimum. I tend to do the work without complaint and don’t need credit as long as the task gets done. But this doesn’t work well for me when I have a partner that assumes by nitpicking my work, they’ve done an immense amount themselves and should get lot of credit for all they contributed. I don’t respond well to it. And it strains the partnership.
If you need to have an explicit conversation before beginning a project about how best you can communicate, do it. Get all of that out of the way before you start and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration and headaches along the way.
Of course there are exceptions to everything. I’ve been approached by people I don’t know about creative projects, had no idea what I was really getting into, and it worked out beautifully. I’ve done creative projects with people I am extremely close to and fond of who have a completely complementary skill levels with me that haven’t worked out at all.
Especially in the land of creativity, I don’t know that there is a formula for what certain partners work better than others. I just know that, at this point in my life, you’ve got to add value to my world if I’m going to consider partnering up with you.